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“Fashion is a decor, a background or a scene, in short, as a theater.” (Roland Barthes)

“The mechanism through which consumption is stimulated often seen as “fashion”, or as a similar concept like “preprogrammed obsolescence”. Definitions of consumerism after the Second World War have distinguished the “fetishizing” of consumption, ideological manipulation of the consumer and rapid increase of human needs. One can argue that this consumerism is an effect of the instability of capitalism and concurrently, of its expansion, while fashion is a battlefield for the emerging new forms of interclass struggles. Fashion is a habit, a collective habit.

Modern social codes allow the immediately inferior group to imitate the gestures and preferences of the superior ones. According to this model, groups of higher status are forced to adopt new styles in order to maintain their superiority or distinction,thus tastes strain down the social ladder. This happens periodically, hence a cyclic process is created, generating seemingly mysterious mutations that we call fashion. Fashion is not a bourgeois element, it becomes a necessary luxury.

There have been numerous accounts on fashion that acknowledge its function in the process of expressing the class difference in the capitalist society, but they tend to perceive it as an organism acting automatically for the benefits of the dominant or privileged classes. The financial affluence of the middle-class together with the massive consumption are seen as means of exclusion – failure to identify with other groups.

The affluence of the middle class is seen as a means of imitation – identification with other groups. It is believed that mass production threatens to erode, to absorb, or to trivialise the differences between the classes, transforming the preservation of the ”distinction” into the prerogative of the privileged and elite groups. As a result, those who belong to the subordinate groups, instead of developing their own methods of exclusion, crave the ones from the higher status groups. An effect of reproducing social structures or imitating social behaviours follows close. According to the logic of the egalitarian society, when people don’t have to exhibit the social differences, they will not do so. If the law and the anonymity allow you to “escape” by being anyone you choose to be, then you will not try to redefine yourself. However, egalitarian logic quits functioning when applied to an ancien régime city. Despite the fact that there is a desire to observe dress codes, while doing so, people hope to impose a pattern on the mixture of strangers from the streets.

As for the identity, it remains a controversial phenomenon. If the individual at birth is a blank slate, then identity cannot exist without some socially mediated roles. Does the inferior being truly exist as a subject transcending masks and roles or – as Foucault presumes – is he only a modern role? When the patient, the client, or the student is dispatched on a quest for his own identity, isn’t he or she put in a desperate situation? The only way out of this situation seems to be offered by the surrogate identities, and the specialist manages them well. Asserting masks and roles as identities could prove useful for our daily interactions with the people around us, yet it does not suffice for those who are prone to further investigations. In his dialogue on Gelassenheit, Heidegger defines it as averting one’s eyes from a person in order to identify him or her.

In close connection to an immanent personality code concerning public appearances, there lies a desire to control these appearances by increasing self-awareness. Nevertheless, behaviour and consciousness are oddly connected; behaviour comes before consciousness. Behaviour is involuntarily revealed, and is difficult to control in advance, especially because there are no plain rules for reading small details; these are plain for insiders only, and one cannot find a stable code to employ in order to become a gentleman or an absolutely respectable woman. In sexuality, as well as in fashion, once you can surpass a certain set of terms, these terms become unimportant. There emerge a new set of clues, a new penetration code; the mystification of personality is carried forward in stores as mystification of new commodities. Thus consciousness becomes a retrospective activity, a control of what has been lived, an endeavour towards disclosure rather than to training. If a character is involuntarily displayed into the present, he or she can be controlled only by watching it in the past tense.

A history of nostalgia has yet to be written, but this past tense relation of behaviour with consciousness explains a crucial distinction. The past is nostalgically remembered as a time of innocence and modest experiences. In the past one was truly alive only if one was able to give a meaning to the past; hence the confusion of the present could be facilitated. This is the truth through retrospection. Psychoanalytic therapy arises from this sense of Victorian nostalgia, as well as the modern youth cult. The modern youth cult establishes the fetishisation of the consumer good, the permanent resort to the commercial fashion magazines, the wish to become more desirable, while differentiating from those one should not distance through the possession of goods, according to the egalitarian theory.

Răzvan Ion is theoretician, curator, cultural manager and political activist. He is the co-editor of PAVILION – journal for politics and culture, co-director of the BUCHAREST BIENNALE – Bucharest International Biennial for Contemporary Art, and in 2008 was appointed director of PAVILION – the center for contemporary art and culture in Bucharest. He was associate professor at University of California, Berkeley; Lisbon University; Central University of New York; University of London; Sofia University; University of Kiev; etc. He has held conferences and lectures at different art institutions like Witte de With, Rotterdam; Kunsthalle Vienna; Art in General, New York; rum46, Aarhus; Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon; la Casa Encedida, Madrid; New Langton, San Francisco; CCA, Tbilisi; Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj; University of Art, Cluj; etc. He writes for different publications and he recently curated ’From Contemplating to Constructing Situations’ and “Exploring the Return of Repression” at PAVILION, Bucharest and rum46, Aarhus. Presently, he is working on the book projects “Exploring the Return of Repression” and “Rhizomic Structures Of Art Institutions. Neo-Politics Of Culture”. He is a professor at the University of Bucharest where he teaches Curatorial Studies and Critical Thinking.

Affluence of the working class from differentiation to collectivism
(On Fashion and the Politics of Aesthetics)

Marina Albu, Maria Balea, Cosmin Gradinariu, Gergo Horvath, Vladislav Mamyshev, Radu Nitescu, Adrian Paci, Corneliu Porumboiu, Andu Simion, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Wu Tsang.

Razvan Ion